Evading Gunfire: Should You, Zig-Zag, Crouch or Just Run?

A common topic of conversation from people who are considering how best to avoid getting hot lead put to them is movement, specifically running. When it comes getting shot, or rather not, best practices are encouraged, so it is only natural that concerned people will want to know what the best technique is for avoiding gunfire.

The most commonly advocated variations on “run like hell” include zig-zagging, running at an angle away from the shooter and running in a crouch. Opinions vary wildly, but the only opinions that we should really be giving credence to come from professional gunslingers in on line of work or the other. Not hobby shooters, not internet wannabes and certainly not videogamers. Your go-to best solution may be dictated by the situation you find yourself in, but in general we are looking for techniques that are our best bet 90% of the time. That technique may surprise you. Read on to find out more.

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Understanding the Threat

Whatever broader scenario you find yourself in, the specific threat is the same: guy with a gun, wants to shoot you. You, if you are sane, don’t want to be shot. Getting shot will result in a grievous, often life-altering wound, and will kill will obvious regularity. For professionals, getting shot will severely impede your chances of mission success. Sources close to me also confirm getting shot hurts like an SOB much of the time.

It does not matter if your attacker is a mugger, terrorist or neighbor gone rogue. Your goal, if you are unable to engage him from a position of advantage, is to beat feet out of the area or to a piece of hard cover. Movement equals life, and moving smart will increase your chances of keeping yours. For a gunman, the variables that amount to a successful hit are vast: shooter skill, shooter stress, type of firearm, target size, distance and movement speed, intervening barriers and for long range shots things like atmospheric conditions and wind factors.

Assuming you are not the unlucky of a true sniper, or the budget version, a violent wacko with a scoped deer rifle, you will be facing a threat at close to close-medium range in all probability. Our aspiring murderer will likely have a handgun, but could be armed with a rifle or shotgun. The type of weapon will have some bearing on our chances, but not overwhelmingly so.

Major Factors to Reduce Hit Probability

Rather than dwell on all the minutiae that a gunman will be working through in order to shoot us (if he is a professional) or the odds that a wild round (fired by an enthusiastic amateur) will strike us it is more instructive and simpler to consider only the things that we should be worrying about to keep from winding up the shootee.

The single most important thing you can do when facing gunfire is put cover between you and the bullets. If cover is not nearby, move to cover at best possible speed. The next most important factor to reduce your odds of an unplanned piercing is distance. The equation is unavoidable: the greater the distance, the harder the shot for a shooter that has your number and wild rounds are geometrically less likely to hit you the farther you are from the issuing gun. The last factor that we have control over is movement; a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one.

The most common question about the last part, and overarching subject of this article is IF your choice is moving across an area with no cover to escape, or moving some distance to a piece of good cover, how should you run?

Should you zig-zag, jink or juke? Afterall, an erratic and wildly unpredictable target must be harder to hit than one moving in a linear, consistent and therefore predictable way, right? Or perhaps you should run in a half crouch, reducing the size of the gunman’s target? Should you just run flat-out as fast as you can without any other evasive maneuvering?

The answers are not so easy to come by.

On Your Marks…

Bottom line, there has been no truly comprehensive, in depth study with publicly published results about that quantifies and collates data on the topic of movement variations affecting shooter efficiency. There is a mountain of opinion, and several respected professional trainers in the gun world have performed plenty of experimentation on the subject, but so far a truly illuminating study remains elusive.

What opinions are out there among professionals are generated most often by their expertise behind a gun and accumulated theory on firearm employment. Much of this info has been earned by hard fighting and more than a little blood. I’d suggest you listen to them, and not some random folks and your local gun club or prepper meet-up.

There is no such thing as true consensus on this topic, but the overarching recommendations center on the following truths:

  1. The greater your distance from the shooter, the better your chances of not getting shot.
  2. Following #1, the greater the speed with which you can increase that distance, the better.
  3. A reliable piece of cover between the shooter and yourself will keep him from shooting you. Not all cover is created equal, and many things people consider cover are not.
  4. Zig-Zagging and crouching while running may affect the shooters ability to hit you, and may further affect how the bullets strike you, but both usually reduce speed, and that should be avoided most times.

We’ll unpack each of those below.

Details

Distance from the shooter is generally your golden ticket. Most shooters simply suck even in ideal conditions. Put them in an excited or stressed state, like shooting the shit out of innocent people at a mall or movie theater and their accuracy will degrade further. Their weapon makes some difference here: if the shooter has a handgun, and you can get about 50 feet away you should be home free. A rifle will increase their effective hit range somewhat. Prioritize seeking cover if they have a rifle.

A shotgun is bad news here; if loaded with shot, past very close range out to a distance of about 25 to 30 yards most shotguns have greatly increased hit probability with each trigger press over a handgun or rifle thanks to the spread of the shot package. One little ball of buckshot can inflict a lethal wound, and multiple impacts if you get caught in the sweet spot are proportionally more injurious. If you are lucky and the shooter is an idiot the shotgun will be loaded with birdshot, which, while still dangerous, is unlikely to inflict fatal wounds outside of very close range. A shotgun loaded with slugs will behave like a rifle for your purposes.

Understanding that distance is our friend, the faster you can increase it between you and the bad guy the better. Raw speed will do that best. Note that you need to know where you are going. In a no-joke no reaction time situation, away from the gunfire is a good plan, but you should have already kept in mind your potential exits, and identified objects and architectural or landscape features that will stop bullets. If you cannot do that at any given time you need to pay more attention. Relaxed awareness is the watchword.

Regarding cover, study up on what will stop bullets and what won’t around your house and out in your town and the world. Cars may or may not be cover depending on your placement around or inside it and the ballistic threat hurtling into it. Most interior residential walls, doors and other surfaces will impede but will not stop bullets from handguns.

So, if you have to cover some wide open space or serious distance to make an escape or get to cover, should you juke, jink bob or weave? Should you crouch? For zig-zagging, probably don’t waste your time. Any significant, rapid change in direction done in succession robs momentum and slows you down unless you are very athletic. Slower movement means more exposure time, and every trigger pull in your direction is an opportunity for a bullet to do its grisly work, if the trigger-puller is skilled or not. By moving at best speed you will incur less “opportunities.”

Running bent over or crouching will also slow you down, but may be prudent if you can do so to take advantage of cover or concealment while moving. Doing so in the open is probably not worth the loss of speed. The only other consideration for movement technique is that moving directly away from the shooter will increase distance more quickly, but can also malt you into his sights, especially if he is using a rifle.

If you hear shooting, especially near or inside buildings, and can discern no bullet impacts in your immediate area, take a moment to get your bearings and see if you can tell exactly where the shooting is coming from. Built up areas and large structures will muffle and oddly echo the report of a gun. It would not do to take off running at the onset only to wind up running toward the shooter!

Also do not immediately fall in with a herd of people stampeding in a group; there is no guarantee they are running to safety, and a big clot of people is a juicy target for a killer, and likely to attract gunfire. Sophisticated terrorist attacks against large gatherings or public spaces, especially ones indoors, also carry significant risk that an initial strike or shooting will be used to herd a mass of people into a tightly defined killzone for easy conversion into casualties. Know where easy conversion into casualties. Know where YOU will go should shooting start up near you.

Priorities and Additional Thoughts

When shooting starts, assuming you are not moving to engage the shooter due to professional or personal obligation, your number one priority is to evade harm. Get out of there as soon as you can! If the way out is not clear or passable put a piece of good cover between yourself and the shooter. Becoming a casualty will only serve to make the situation worse, and this includes making things harder for first responders or the people in your group.

Everyone should decide ahead of time what you are willing to risk on behalf of strangers. No good person wants to see evil done in their presence, but you must weigh your obligations to your loved ones or group members against the very real chance that you may be severely wounded or killed attempting to stop the shooter.

As per above, if you are out with a group or your family, your responsibility is to them first. If they are not as skilled or switched on as you are they will need a cool head and decisive leadership to see them out of the killzone in one piece. It is up to you, no one else will save them.

Once clear of the danger area, you must conduct a thorough check of yourself and anyone with you. Many gunshot victims will not perceive they have been hit when adrenalized, and could be bleeding profusely. Inspect yourself and others for entry and exit wounds and obvious bleeding. Some hits may not bleed much initially. Take a moment to calm down and focus before beginning your evaluation.

If you carry a small trauma kit (and you really should be) now is the time to use it.

Conclusion

Generally, any additional evasive maneuvers when running away from a shooter are wasted unless circumstances exist that would allow you to make better use of cover and concealment by doing so.

Cover, distance and escape equal life when some scumbag is trying to shoot you. You should seek all three at best possible speed and save the zig-zagging for war movies.

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About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.

4 comments

  1. When you are trying to avoid danger, be it bullets, shrapnel or radiation, the trick is shielding and distance. Do not confuse cover with concealment. Cover will stop the bullet (brick wall), concealment will hide you from view but not stop penetration. If you are unarmed and you are not “duty-bound” to respond to the sound of gunfire the rule of preference is Run-Hide-Fight. Run from the sound of gunfire as quickly as possible and seek help and shelter. Hide if running will bring you into the shooters field of fire. Remember to silence your phone, control your breathing, lock doors and turn off lights. If outside think about cover vs. concealment again and also think did I leave a trail of footprints in the mud/snow? Am I breaking a pathway in the grass that can be easily seen? Are the bushes moving because of me? If you have to fight-remember you are fighting for your life. This is not a video game or a movie. There are no do-overs, only life or death. Your weapon is your mind, everything else is a tool. So what tools do you see? Rocks the size of baseballs, a chair/table leg as a club, fire extinguisher as a club, shard of glass as a knife (be careful to wrap it so you don’t cut yourself). Anything can be a weapon if properly utilized and if you are really motivated to survive. Do not get hung up in useless details-should I crouch or zig-zag. RUN. Keep running until out of the line of fire or behind cover or until help arrives. RUN-HIDE-FIGHT-SURVIVE.

  2. Another scenario where movement is important to survival involves shooting your way out of a confrontation with multiple opponents facing you. This is where Clint East wood would beat all the gunmen to the draw and dispatch them one by one before they could return fire. In reality few people are that fast nor are their adversaries that slow.One strategy is to move laterally as you return fire so that you are firing down the lne of gunmen facing you. The first opponent will screen the other two, just as the second will screen the third etc., making it difficult for them to return fire without hitting the gunman in front of them. If you are fast enough and shoot straight you can dispatch one gunman at a time without ever having to face all three directly. Your misses might even hit the others lined up behind the first. Same with shots that complete penetrate the target in front.

  3. How many times do possible victims say, “I thought it was a car backfiring.” or “I thought it was fireworks.”. This momentary freeze can be fatal, cars don’t backfire any more and only fools shoot off fireworks in crowded venues. Movement is the only thing that can save your life in most situations, laying on floor or ground makes you an excellent follow up casualty for the strolling shooter or one with a high angle to his targets: see Las Vegas.

  4. Good article. Good comments. I think Charles characterized it correctly: “Your go-to best solution may be dictated by the situation you find yourself in.” As to speed, cover, and zig-zags, the underlying premise is TIMING. Does my opponent have the ability to target me in the time I am visible/exposed? Distance, skill, and maneuver are considerations,; return fire will SIGNIFICANTLY distract him/them, but will also turn his/their focus on you. I do know that a well placed shot is more dangerous than barrage fire so in keeping with “I’m up, they see me, I’m down”, I will move quickly away when I can, but will definitely zig and get down when I feel the shooter’s focus is on me! If possible, prefer Hugh’s offensive approach.

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